2020 marks a surprising 30 years since BMW introduced its then high-tech and futuristic-looking “8” series super coupe – while 2019 marked 20 years since the car was discontinued after proving to be a sales flop marred by a sky-high purchase price of around £50,000, steep running costs and eye-watering depreciation. Lately that original 8 series (especially in its ultimate forms such as the 170mph 850CSi and bespoke Alpina B12 variants) has achieved classic status, and values for the best examples can now surpass the original price, helped in part by last year’s arrival of an all-new car bearing the 8 designation.
What hard-driving BMW enthusiasts have been waiting for, however, is the launch of the high-performance M8 range from BMW’s famed Motorsport division. And now it’s here in the form of the fastest and most expensive road cars the German marque has ever produced. Available only in top-specification “Competition” form in the UK, the M8 features the mighty 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine found in the M5 sports saloon, wrapped in svelte and muscular bodywork that can be had in two-door coupe, two-door convertible or four-door Gran Coupe models.
In all cases, the car will sprint from standstill to 60mph in just a shade more than three seconds and continue to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph – although the purchase of an “M Driver’s Package” for £2,095 will give owners access to a session with a BMW instructor and enable the restriction to be removed, adding another 35mph.
Indeed, the M8 offers two very different personalities in a single car. A cosseting interior featuring quilted leather, state-of-the-art infotainment, minutely programmable climate control and seats so infinitely adjustable that they will accommodate drivers from the smallest to the largest give it all the credentials required for continent-crossing grand touring – but glance down at the centre console and a set of innocuous-looking buttons can be used to invoke driving modes that alter everything from engine and transmission response to chassis tuning, suspension set-up, exhaust note, brake feel and power distribution.
Once programmed to the desired settings (and it takes some thought, especially for the less tech-savvy), the sportiest M1 or M2 modes can be selected with the flick of one of two steering-wheel-mounted, red-anodised switches to unleash the car’s massive full performance potential in an alternative pair of tailored combinations – even changing the regular four-wheel-drive set-up to rear-wheel drive and eliminating all safety inhibitors, thus invoking what has been dubbed the “drift mode” that’s best reserved for circuit driving.
One wonders, in fact, whether the M8 Competition might well be worthy of being called the automotive world’s ultimate Jekyll and Hyde… or does that depend on who’s driving it?